Category:Wine news

Tuesday tidbits

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? Nutritional labeling of wines. Yes, you read that right — just like peanut butter, potato chips and soft drinks. The federal agency that regulates wine wants to add serving facts, which will require information about serving size, number of servings per container, calorie, carbohydrate, protein and fat content. The wine industry isn’t thrilled, since nutritional labeling adds cost to the product, and makes it less aesthetically appealing. The image above is a sample, taken from the Federal Register, which seems harmless enough. But smaller wineries, especially regional ones, will probably struggle to meet the requirements. It’s one thing, with economies of scale, to put the label on tens of thousands of bottle. It’s another to do it when you produce just a couple of thousand bottles.

? Vintners Hall of Fame. Ernest and Julio Gallo (E&J Gallo Winery), Paul Draper (Ridge Vineyards), Milijenko ?Mike ? Grgich (Grgich Hills) and Sacramento wine merchant  Darryl Corti will be inducted into the hall, sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus. Also named as Pioneers are the founders of three of California’s most historically important wineries: John Daniel (Inglenook); Louis P. Martini (Louis M. Martini Winery); and Carl Wente (Wente Vineyards). It’s especially heartening to see Draper’s name on the list. Ridge is among the finest U.S. wineries, and has constantly strived to make zinfandel a socially acceptable grape in a world of cabernet and merlot snobs..

Direct shipping gets closer

A federal court judge threw out Texas’ ban on Internet direct shipping yesterday, which means the state’s wine drinkers are one step closer to buying product from out-of-state retailers.

The ruling said Texas may not prohibit out-of-state wine merchants from shipping to Texas, since the state allows the shipment of wine from in-state Texas wine merchants. In other words, if I can buy wine from a Houston retailer, I should be able to buy it from a New York City-based retailer. The judge cited the 2005 Supreme Court decision that legalized direct shipping from wineries to consumers, even if the latter lived in another state.

This is a big deal. Theoretically, it would allow any consumer in the U.S. to buy wine from any retailer, something that has been illegal since the end of Prohibition. In this respect, subject to minimum age requirements, it would make wine as simple to buy on the Internet as tennis shoes, books or a computer.

The catch, of course, is whether the decision will stand up on appeal. It’s probably too soon to tell. The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision did not address retailers, and an appeals court may consider that sufficient reason for voiding it. My guess is that a federal appeals court will overturn it, which will put the issue back in front of the Supreme Court.

Tuesday wine tidbits

? The 24th annual Dallas Morning News Wine Competition will be held Feb. 9-10. This is notable because it’s the largest U.S. commercial wine competition outside California, and the fourth largest in the United States. It gets more than 3,000 national and international entries. I haven’t judged it yet, but I have my hopes. It is known for very competitive non-vinifera categories, which the Wine Curmudgeon really enjoys.

? We’re all wine snobs, apparently. A California study found that if people think wine costs more, then they think it tastes better. The subjects’ brains showed more pleasure when they were drinking wine they were told cost more — even though they were drinking the same wines throughout the study. The researcher who ran the study was befuddled, saying: “We were shocked. I think it was because the flavor was stronger and our subjects were not very experienced.” He thought wine professionals might deliver different results, but I’m not too sure.

? One of the most interesting people in the Texas wine business, grape grower Alphonse Dotson is included in Saveur’s 10th annual list of 100 favorites in the world of food and wine. Dotson, who is also president of the Texas wine trade group, is instantly recognizable thanks to his trademark cowboy hat. He cuts quite a figure at formal events.

Tuesday odds and ends

? Our pal Scott Carpenter, the Everyday Wine Guy, has announced his wines to watch for the new year. Scott likes Spanish tempranillo (no surprise to regular visitors here, who know how much I like it) and Argentine malbec, He also recommends Sonoma’s Hannah Winery and Vineyard, and those are nice wines. They’re a bit pricey for the Wine Curmudgeon, starting at about $20, but they deliver value.

? Expect to see wine distribution issues take center stage in state legislatures across the country this year. On one side are consumers, Internet-based retailers, some traditional retailers, and some wineries. They want to lift shipping restrictions that prevent consumers from buying wine on-line and directly from wineries. On the other are distributors, some state alcohol regulators, and some retailers, who like the current system the way it is. Big money is being spent in this fight, according to the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, a trade group for Internet wine sellers. It reports that distributors and their allies contributed $50 million between 2000 and 2006 to legislators, candidates, and the like. We have an especially cantankerous situation in Texas, where the retailers and distributors faced off last year and more than $7 million was spent in contributions.

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Some wine blogginess for the New Year

? My pal Alfonso Cevola, who tolerates my almost constant request for availability information with a patience that is awe inspiring, is an accomplished wine blogger in his own right — On the Wine Trail in Italy. Alfonso’s effort is ranked 64th in something called 100 Top Wine Blogs, which is damned impressive. He is ranked ahead of a bunch of better-known and very chi chi names.

? Availability — that is, who has the wine I’m writing about? — is  the bane of my existence as a wine writer. One would think that these days, with high-tech inventory systems, real-time inventory scanning and the like, that any retailer would tell at any time if they carried a wine. And one would be wrong. Case in point: A piece in the New York Times business section a couple of weeks ago, detailing vintage and small producer champagnes. Great article about great wine, but unless you live in Manhattan, not much chance to try them,

? What about Virginia sparkling wine? Dave McIntrye recommends Kluge Estate, which he touts as the best bubbly on the East Coast. What about availability, you ask? It has limited national distribution, and I have seen it in the Dallas area.

? Elin McCoy, whose book on Robert Parker is a must read for anyone who cares about wine, notes that 2007 was one of the best years ever for wine auctions. Why does this matter to those of us who don’t buy wine at auction? Because it’s more pressure on wine prices and on producers to make wine that appeals to auction buyers.